The sophomore slump theory has enough evidence to make any second year player concerned. But the 2nd-year Buccaneers should have nothing to worry about. All of Tampa Bay’s second year starter’s are expected to boom, not bust, in 2013.
Martin is arguably the most important piece of the Buccaneers offense going into his second year. The Buccaneers are a team that struggle when they can’t establish their run game. In fact the Buccaneers only lost one game last year when Martin had over 100 yards rushing, and that was the game against the Philadelphia Eagles where they lost with seconds left in regulation. Martin will improve this year for three main reasons, experience, better blocking, and depth.
The Oakland native got plenty of NFL experience in his first year, carrying the ball 319 times. Martin finished 5th in rushing last season with 1,454 yards and touchdowns with eleven. But what makes me believe he won’t have a decrease in production is his versatility. Martin had 49 catches (3rd on the team) with 472 yards and one touchdown. Unlike LeGarrette Blount, the Douggernaut can do so many things well including catching, gaining yards after contact, and pass blocking that it makes him hard to game-plan against and even harder to stop.
Probably the most amazing thing about Martin’s rookie season was his ability to be so effective with a battered offensive line. I remember watching Martin in awe during the 2012 pre-season because of how well he took advantage of the holes that Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks were creating for him. Getting two pro-bowl caliber guards back from injury will do nothing but improve Martin. With better blocking Martin will gain more yards-per-carry and therefore, will not have to run as much. In addition, having our best guards on the field will also make it easier for the other running backs on the depth chart.
It is not clear yet who will be the backup running back for the Buccaneers. My guess is Leonard because of his Rutgers past, but whoever it is will have more of a role than Blount did in 2012. Better blocking also pertains to the back up running backs. If Brian Leonard, Peyton Hillis, Mike James, or Michael Smith can prove to be a reliable back-up, less pressure will be on Martin. More carries by the back up running backs will also decrease the chances of Martin having an injury from overuse.
The main reason David’s production won’t decrease is because he is a playmaker with an incredible drive to succeed. In college David originally attended a community college before transferring to Nebraska in 2010. In his first season he set the school’s single-season record for tackles with 152. By the conclusion of the 2011 season, he was named First Team All-Big Ten by both the coaches and media. He was additionally nominated as the inaugural Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year, awarded to the best linebacker in the Big Ten. David strengthened his reputation as a tackling-machine by ranking second in the NFL in solo tackles with 112, and first amongst rookies.
David is a dangerous player because you can’t simply run plays away from him. The Buccaneers have plenty of support for David especially when it comes to the run game. The Buccaneers have a superiorly athletic defensive line, two high-speed pursuit safeties, and the run stopping middle linebacker Mason Foster. Also with a revitalized defensive-line David will have more success with his blitzing opportunities, especially because of the pass rush talent we have on the left side of the field.
Lastly, unlike most rookies David called the plays and commanded the defense last year. In his second year calling plays under the same coaching staff, the cerebral linebacker should make huge strides in his play recognition and reaction time. As Freeman said in an interview with 620 WDAE ”Lavonte David picks up on the smallest things…special kid, special player, special talent…very excited to see him, I don’t know what he’s going to do, but he’s going but I know it’s going to be great, and I know it’s going to help us win games.”
Last season Barron ranked sixth among rookies with 71 solo tackles and pass defenses with 11. The Buccaneers almost had the worst pass defense in NFL history in 2012. Because of this, Barron wasn’t allowed to fully play to his strengths. If Darrelle Revis can play as expected, Barron will have a lot more opportunities to force turnovers either by flatting people or by being the ball hawk that he was in Alabama. With the new additions of Dashon Goldson and Revis to the secondary Barron will undoubtably be targeted more by offenses. So there might be a slight learning curve for Barron in the beginning of the season, but I expect Barron to continue making big plays like he did in week 17 against the Atlanta Falcons.